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A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE

THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE AMERICAN SPY WHO HELPED WIN WORLD WAR II

Meticulous research results in a significant biography of a trailblazer who now has a CIA building named after her.

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A remarkable chronicle of a courageous woman who worked undercover for British and American intelligence in occupied France during World War II and had to fight for every ounce of recognition she deserved.

Throughout this lively examination of the life of Virginia Hall (1906-1982), British biographer and journalist Purnell (Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, 2015, etc.) shows how, if Hall had been a man, dropping undercover in and out of occupied Vichy, Paris, and Lyon, setting up safe houses, and coordinating couriers for the Resistance, she would now be as famous as James Bond. However, this daughter of a well-off Baltimore family, who attended Radcliffe and Barnard before finishing her education in Europe, dreamed of a career in the American Foreign Service—but over and over she was relegated to the secretary’s desk. In 1933, a freak hunting accident in Turkey left her with an amputated left leg, a horrendous experience that only seemed to steel her resolve to live her life as she pleased. The outbreak of Nazi aggression in 1939 and subsequent invasion of France prompted Hall to volunteer to drive ambulances for the Service de Santé des Armées. Then, a fortuitous meeting with an agent of the Special Operations Executive, the fledgling British secret service, sealed her fate. Impressed by her courage, independence, and poise, the SOE tasked Hall with returning to occupied France to help coordinate the work of local Resistance leaders and future SOE agents. Her appointment, writes the author of her consistently fascinating subject, “was an outstanding act of faith in her abilities, which had for so long been belittled or ignored.” Hall’s daring efforts in the breakout of Resistance prisoners in the Vichy-run internment camp at Mauzac, in March 1942, was a stunning achievement considering the enormous danger of getting caught and tortured by the Gestapo. Later in the narrative, the author amply shows how her later CIA work was only grudgingly recognized and celebrated.

Meticulous research results in a significant biography of a trailblazer who now has a CIA building named after her.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2529-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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